Happy Oiltober, everyone!! Super corny, I know, but I am just sooo excited to share this information with you all. My oily journey began about a year ago, and like most people, I was diffusing oils from Target and Bed, Bath, & Beyond because they smelled good. And while nothing is necessarily wrong with that, I had NO idea that essential oils could be used for so much more than nice smells! Although I am not an expert in this field, I love using essential oils and researching their efficacy, so I've synthesized this information so that we can learn together. Let's get to it!
**DISCLAIMER: I only use Young Living oils. I love them and can't recommend them enough, but with that being said, do your own research and figure out which brand is best for you and your family! I really like this oil company comparison chart. Just note that when I'm talking about uses for oils, I am talking about high quality therapeutic grade oils, which are much higher than those you may find at Target or Bed, Bath, & Beyond. Those cannot be ingested or applied topically for the most part. Always follow the labels on your bottles and consult a physician before starting any new regimens.
What is an essential oil?
An essential oil is a volatile substance derived from a specific botanicals, such as flowers, shrubs, trees, roots, bushes, and seeds. They are volatile in the sense that they rise quickly in air due to their rapid evaporative properties, allowing for the generation of particular scents within an area.
They are made up of many of the following chemical constituents: esters, oxides, terpenes, alcohols, phenols, aldehydes, and ketones. Each constituent has specific properties, whether antibacterial, antiviral, calming, etc., that are of therapeutic value.
NOT ALL OILS ARE CREATED EQUALLY. There are four different grades of essential oils: therapeutic grade (pure essential oils from sustainably cultivated plants that contain optimal levels of plant compounds; hence, the most expensive), "natural" or organic essential oils (pass growing standards but may or may not possess optimal levels of important plant compounds), extended or altered oils (considered fragrance-grade oils because they are only used for their aroma, offering little to no important plant compounds), and synthetic (created in a laboratory).
Although essential oils have gained popularity over the last few years, they have been around for centuries, serving as wellness support, cosmetic additives, and components of religious practices. Let's take it wayyyy back to the Ancient Times. The FIRST distillation device (I'll talk more about distillation later) was found in Tepe Gawra, Mesopotamia and was back dated to about 3500 B.C. Five-hundred years later, Chinese ruler Shen Nung published a book containing 300 known botanicals and their uses. A few thousand years later, Queen Hatshepsut, ruler of Egypt, set out on a conquest to the land of Punt and brought back a grove of Myrrh trees amongst various other treasures. Around 1330 B.C. King Tut was buried with alabaster jars that were designed to hold essential oils that would be there for him in the afterlife. How cool is that !?
Fast-forward a few thousand years to the birth of Jesus Christ. According to the Bible, the three wise men brought baby Jesus the most precious of gifts, which included frankincense and myrrh. Hey, if it's good enough for baby Jesus, it's good enough for me!
In 100 A.D., Roman historian, Pliny the Elder, wrote the book Natural History, which discussed the various uses of herbs and essential oils. Essential oil use continued advancing in Persia, and in 1000 A.D., Physician Avicenna created floral essential oils (think rose essence) via steam distillation, setting the stage for the future of aromatherapy.
More recently-1930 to be exact- Dr. René-Maurice Gattefossé began pioneering a research sector focused on the therapeutic properties of essential oils, which ultimately led to the publication of his Aromatherapy book. Things remained pretty stagnant until the 1980's when both Dr. Jean-Claude Lapraz and Gary Young began researching the properties of essential oil properties and their therapeutic effects.
Methods of production
An organic process and the most common method, which uses steam to separate the volatile compounds from the plant material. Volatile means that the substance can evaporate rapidly. Temperature and pressure must be closely monitored during this process so that the oils do not dissipate too quickly or burn. During this process, a water bath is placed over a heat source with plant material suspended over the water bath. The steam penetrates the plant particles and vaporizes the compounds that will become essential oils after passing through a condenser and becoming a liquid particle again.
One of the differences between high-quality essential oils and low-quality essential oils is taking into account the compounds' maximum points of distillation. For example, distilling Botanical A for 6 minutes creates an essential oil that smells exactly like Botanical A; however, the optimal distillation for this botanical is 2 hours in order to reap all of the therapeutic benefits. That is a HUGE time difference, and for some companies solely looking to make a profit, distilling for 6 minutes allows for a larger production with fewer therapeutic qualities. This really is how some companies operate, so make sure you remain cognizant of this!
Differs from steam distillation in that this method does not require heat (hence, cold pressed). This method is specifically used for citrus oils, where mechanical pressure is used to extract the oils from the rind of the fruit. A heavy weight is placed on top of plant material, which presses the essential oils out of the plant material for collection.
Why not use steam distillation on citrus oils? They contain citrol molecules, which are very delicate, and when they break down via steam distillation, they become very bitter.
Less common method of essential oil extraction that is used for oils such as frankincense, myrrh, and copaiba. An external part of the plant is removed, allowing the resin to flow out and be collected. The resin is then steam distilled to produce the essential oils.
Absolute Oil Expression:
Most complex extraction method because it requires use of a solvent. This method is typically used for plants that are too delicate to withstand steam distillation, such as jasmine and neroli. A solvent is added to the plant material, which helps to extract the essential oil from the plant without harming the oil. After this, another extraction uses steam to detach the solvent from the essential oil. Because of the use of solvents, oils that undergo this method of extraction are NOT recommended for internal consumption, though, because of the rapid evaporation of the solvent, they are perfectly fine to use topically.
It takes 75 lemons to make ONE 15mL bottle of Young Living's lemonessential oil, 27 square feet of lavender to make ONE 15mL bottle of YoungLiving's lavender essential oil, and 160 pounds of rose petals to create ONE15mL bottle of Young Living's rose essential oil!
How they work
When I started researching this, I felt like I was back in my Organic Chemistry class, except this time, I was actually enjoying myself. Essential oils are made up of a TON of different chemical constituents or pieces that react with other compounds in your body.
Aromas from the oils stimulate your olfaction system, reaching the brain within approximately 22 seconds, and your olfactory system connects to your brain- specifically, the limbic system.
Quick detour to discuss one of my favorite topics- neuroanatomy. Yay!! The limbic system is responsible for emotional responses and plays a regulatory role in motivated behavior and learning. Its principle components are the hypothalamus (keeps hormones balanced, responsible for sexual desire, hunger, & emotional response), hippocampus (MEMORY!), and the amygdala (responsible for coordinating emotional responses with other areas of the brain). This image perfectly depicts how it's possible that aromas have SUCH an effect on our mood, memories, and certain behaviors. In fact, the limbic system, and most notably, the amygdala, play an important role in alcohol, anti-depressant medication, and anti-anxiety medication.
If you apply your oils topically, the therapeutic constituents are absorbed by the pores in your skin and are able to enter your bloodstream within 2 minutes! Research studies have shown that after topical application, constituents of the therapeutic essential oil can be found in the individual's bloodstream after application. Yay for real quantitative benefits!
Probably the most common way to use essential oils is to diffuse them in an ultrasonic diffuser, which works by using ultrasonic vibrations to break up water and essential oils into negative ion particles that, when released into the air, become attracted to harmful positive ions and neutralize them. You want to avoid anything that diffuses them via heating methods, as this has a tendency to denature the therapeutic properties of the oils.
Although diffusers often come to mind when thinking of aromatically using essential oils, there are a ton of other methods that you can use to switch things up/target systems in different ways. If you don't have a diffuser nearby, you can simply take about 6 deep breaths from the bottle without even using a drop. Yup! How awesome is that!? This tactic is also great when you have just run out of your favorite oil because the empty bottle will still have some residuals containing aromatic properties. Putting a few drops into your hands, cupping your hands over your face, and inhaling for a few seconds is also a good option.
Whenever I am feeling congested, I put a few drops of eucalyptus and other respiratory support oils into a bowl of steaming water, cover my head and the bowl with a towel, and breathe deeply. I find that this helps me immensely.
Many sources suggest that the inhalation of a therapeutic-grade oil is the most effective way to use it because of the interaction that it has with your limbic system; however, a downside to this route is that diffusing oils tends to use more oil more quickly than if you were to apply something topically or take internally.
Therapeutic essential oils can also be applied topically almost anywhere on the body aside from around the eyes, mucous membranes, and in the ear canals. These oils can either be applied "neat" (undiluted) or with a carrier oil, such as fractionated coconut oil, sweet almond oil, argon oil, jojoba oil, etc. "Hot oils" such as cinnamon, clove, lemongrass, oregano, thyme, thieves, and for some, peppermint- these oils should always be diluted with a carrier oil. Citrus oils should also be used with some caution as they cause photosensitivity- AKA don't slather a citrus oil on your arms and then go hangout in the sun all day.
Popular places to put oils include Vita-Flex points (bottom of feet because of large pores and little risk for irritation), wrists & behind the ears (because the skin is more thin in these areas, which increases absorption), chakras, and basically anywhere and everywhere. When you apply your oils topically, massaging the area increases the circulation to that area; thus, increasing the absorption of therapeutic constituents.
If you ever start experiencing irritation after applying a therapeutic essential oil, DO NOT try to rinse it with water as this will push the oil farther into your skin. Simply add more carrier oil to dilute the application as needed.
This is a super controversial topic. On one hand, there are people who believe that essential oils should never be ingested, and on the other hand, there are people ingesting them on a daily basis.
I think a big thing that this comes down to is the purity of the oil. Again, ingesting fragrance grade or even organic, natural oils could be damaging in any quantity. The tricky part exists because the FDA does not regulate essential oils themselves, so companies can market things as "pure" and "natural" even if they are not. YIIIIIKES. That is scary. So do your research. Don't just go out to the nearest Walgreens and start ingesting all the oils. Doing so can lead to kidney problems, liver problems, and so much more. Do your research- I really can't stress that enough.
For Young Living's line (a few other companies also have ingestible lines/oils), the Vitality (white label) essential oils are regarded by the FDA as GRAS (generally regarded as safe) and are intended for use as "dietary supplement and culinary use". Now, this does not mean that you should go pour 10 drops of any oil into a glass and drink it. Ingesting essential oils safely and properly, therefore, implies that you follow the directions on the individual label.
I, personally, am comfortable using Young Living's vitality line internally. Some ways that I enjoy using these oils include putting them in water, tea, olive oil within a capsule, cooking dishes, etc. When putting these therapeutic oils into containers, it is important that they are glass. Why? Essential oils, specifically citrus oils, leech impurities- impurities that lie within plastic and will disintegrate those particles into whatever you have in the glass. So if you wanted to add a drop of lemon to your water in the morning, just make sure that it's in a glass container.
Essential oils are rooted in ancient cultures and can be powerful tools for systemic support when used properly. If you have been attempting to use these oils without any benefits, I highly suggest investing in some therapeutic grade oils.
If you have any other questions, please reach out via commenting on this post, PMing me on Instagram (handle is pleasedontkalemyvibe) or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more specifically about Young Living if you decide that those oils are the best option for your family, and I would be happy to set you up with your first kit!! :) Getting my Premium Starter Kit has honestly changed my life. Not only did I receive amazing oils from which I was able to see REAL benefits, but I also was welcomed into a community of other people interested in the same things as me: health, wellness, and striving for a more toxin-free living.
I hope this information was helpful for you all. Let me know if you'd be interested in a blog about my favorite oils/how I use them or anything else oil-related.
**FDA disclaimer: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.”